The Sangyaw Festival of Tacloban City

Today, June 30, is the fiesta celebration of my home city of Tacloban in the central Philippines. It is highlighted by the Sangyaw (local word for dance) Festival. It is a dazzling street parade showcase of pomp and pageantry, of costumes and choreography. This was taken in 2011, the last time I was in Tacloban. If you follow world news, Tacloban City may sound familiar to you. In early November 2013, it was ground zero and in the direct path of Typhoon Haiyan, a category 5 super typhoon, the strongest cyclone to hit land packing sustained winds of 315 kph. It left more than 6,000 dead and over 1,000 missing, most of them in Tacloban. Today, after a year and a half, I have heard the city has recovered from the devastation. And I hope the celebration this day will continue the tradition of people carrying those festive smiles, graceful poses and a resilient spirit. God bless them!

Cuts through the clutter


These photos were taken earlier in the week during a local festival. People were in colorful, native attire. But that’s just it, I get color fatigue after featuring full vibrant pictures the whole week. If you’re new to this blog, I reserve weekends for monochrome, a respite from the magnificence of color and a return to the striking simplicity of black and white. Since these are festival images, expectedly they are filled with people and details rendering them almost a dissonance of forms, a disarray of shapes. Yet in black and white, one still finds order – a harmony of mood, expressions, movement and drama. No wonder black and white is the preferred medium for portraits, photojournalism, street and people photography. It cuts through the clutter and presents purity even with subjects in seeming disorder. It was father of Canadian photojournalism Ted Grant who said:

When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!

All the best to everyone! Keep on clicking!


Weekend Inspiration 33


Happy weekend bloggers!

Know what the event is


Article Excerpt:
It goes without saying that if you want to photograph a festival, you should know what the festival is all about! You should know how it originated, what it commemorates, and what the significance is, in relation to the current times. Armed with this knowledge, you could decide your “workflow” – the series of pictures you should take to record the event without missing out on any important picture taking opportunity. In other words, do your homework and plan out your strategy rather than going to the festival and then taking photos haphazardly. If you are new to the location or if you have not covered such a festival earlier, it would be wise to ask the locals about the path of the procession, the type of ceremonial floats, the time for the event to start, and whatever other information that you think will help you in your picture-taking project. If you can check out the details with the organizing committee, so much the better, as the information could be more specific, and more reliable. All this takes time, so make sure you don’t think of ‘what-am-I-supposed-to- do’ at the last minute. Remember though, a festival may not necessarily have a parade and floats.
~Rohinton Mehta from his article How To Photograph Festivals



These are headless and sometimes bodiless shots that you will not find in any well-meaning photojournalism or travel publication. It will not pass the scrutiny of photo editors. And as a photographer you know it’s a no-no to chop off the head. Even casual snapshooters know that. Of the many Philippine festivals I’ve covered, I take in the big picture most of the time, that’s how you photograph precision, choreography and action of performers and participants. But I also have this tendency to zoom in on body parts and details particularly lower extremities, capturing the dynamics of the human form during still moments or split-second movement. These images from the Dinagyang Festival may not find its way into magazines but heck, they sure found their way into my photographic mind and heart. The non-traditional can also be fascinating.





To be fair, some of my “traditional” shots of festivals have been used in in-flight magazines and travel websites.

Photo Quotes 159


It’s the subject matter that counts. I’m interested in revealing the subject in a new way to intensify it. A photo is able to capture a moment that people can’t always see. ~Harry Callahan


This to me is the joy of informal people photography – being able to capture pure, spontaneous, unrehearsed, off-the-cuff moments of genuine expressions, such as in this series of images taken at a local water festival.





First code: observe

In more than 500 posts, I have mentioned one time or another that photographers are voyeurs, predators, opportunists, hunters, watchers and observers. Some of these descriptions may not be that flattering. But you have to admit that when you go on location and events, such as festivals, your photographer instinct kicks in and, whether you are aware of it or not, you follow the first code of photographers – observe. For what? For the interesting, appealing, amusing or unusual. You look out for colors, situations, actions and what people are doing.


The above photo was of a festival participant. The event celebrates nationalism and people were garbed in native local costumes that came in many variations. I eyed this guy in indigenous woven hat with scarf and long-sleeved shirt. In other words, he was in a very traditional attire reminiscent of what people wore in my country during the late 1800s and early 1900s. With this information, now you know why I just had to take a picture of the guy. Its the contrast in the image, he with a modern gadget while clad in literally age-old fashion. There are lots of delightful subjects and situations during people-filled events. You just have to watch eagle-eyed and observe.

Stories and portraits


Article Excerpt:

Telling a story
To document a festival it’s important to choose a variety of subject matter. Don’t just take random pictures of revelling crowds as they rarely make great pictures. Instead, focus on individual participants who are dressed up, capture details of costumes and try to make shots that are representative of the festival – dances, floats, musicians, the crowd’s enjoyment.

Get variety in your shots by framing vertically and horizontally and changing viewpoints (look for walls, balconies, rooftops) to give different perspectives. Don’t focus solely on main events, the peripheral activities are usually very photogenic too – think ‘behind-the-scenes’ shots, such as dancers dressing up, vendors selling knick-knacks, and so on.

A festival is also a great time to take portraits – people are in a festive, relaxed mood and are more open to being photographed. Plus you’ll have hundreds of different models to choose from! Have all your settings ready on your camera and work fast as you don’t get a lot of time to compose and shoot.
~Jean-Bernard Carillet from his article Capturing the Moment on Camera at Festivals


Visual feast

Festivals are my perennial favorites. My country isn’t lacking in this colorful cultural event. Almost every city and town, from the metropolis to far-flung villages, celebrate an annual fiesta or festival in honor of a patron saint, of good harvest, or of a product the place is known for. Why are festivals such great subjects? They are literally visual feasts with the explosion of colors, pomp and pageantry, street parades, choreography and movement, and of course people, lots of them. You can capture expressions, freeze motion and action, experiment with blur and the swirl of colors. And you get to shoot that “decisive moment” such as with the image below, taken at one of the premiere Philippine tourism events – the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo City.


I have had a previous post on how to capture celebrations like this. You may want to read the article Focusing On Festivals. I also have a whole issue, Issue #6, of the Junsjazz Digital Magazine devoted to images of fiestas and festivals that I have covered. It’s the start of the week and I’m back to full color photography and I’d like to focus on people and festivals. Expect images and articles on this topic for the rest of the week. Thanks!


Be not afraid to blur


Article Excerpt:
You have been taught so strongly that blur is bad that it can be hard to accept this. However, there are times when you actually want the blur. Not only will it create a true sense of movement and action, but it will also create a very artistically appealing image. For example, think of the movement of car headlights along the highway. If you use a fast shutter speed, you will have an image of those cars. However, if you use a slower shutter speed and allow for blur, you can end up with an image full of visually appealing blur and light trails. Always keep in mind that when it comes to action digital photography, blur can be better at times. You may have to experiment with this from time to time, but it is definitely worth the work when you get that one fascinating image.

Digital photography has certainly made it so much easier to freeze action. However, it can be easy to go overboard and end up with a boring image. That means you need to use the right techniques in order to freeze the action without stopping the sense of motion.
~from the article Techniques of Freezing Action in Digital Photography

Photo Quotes 145


The most effective photographic symbol of motion is blur.~Andreas Feininger

The stop-action shot


Article Excerpt:
In order to give an image a stop-action look, you’ll either need to use your camera’s sports/action mode (indicated by the running figure on the basic shooting mode dial), or your shutter-priority mode to set a fast shutter speed. In this mode, denoted by the Tv (time value) or S (shutter) mode on your shooting dial, you set the desired shutter speed and your camera will automatically set the aperture to get the best exposure. By using a shutter speed of at least 1/500—and especially at 1/1000 to 1/5000 second—you can freeze nearly all activities, including those that happen too quickly to be perceived by the human eye. A person will appear to be suspended in mid-air, while water droplets seem frozen in space. You’ll also need good lighting in order to freeze motion, so it’s best to shoot these images in a well-lit interior venue or on a sunny day. I also advise using an ISO setting of at least 400 to help stop action as well.
~Lynne Eodice from her article How-To: Capturing Action & Motion

Photo Quotes 142


The photographer cannot be a passive spectator; he can be really lucid only if he is caught up in the event.~Henri Cartier-Bresson

The Fiesta Issue is online!

JJ6frontJunsjazz Digital Magazine Issue #6 is now online and available for viewing. Its the Fiesta Issue showcasing select images of Philippine festivals. It highlights people, culture and heritage, and presented in full living color with voice-overs and music to boot. From eight pages in the first Issue, this latest one is 30 pages thick from cover to cover. And for the fourth time I feature guest photo bloggers and a selection of their works. For taking time from their busy schedules to respond to my requests and for sharing their images in the magazine’s pages, my heartfelt thanks to the following:

Monika Isabelle Betley
Mekala Rodrigo
Jane Chesebrough
Katerina Janouskova
Elisa Ruland
Susan Mae Detera
Jennifer Nichole Wells

What do I get from this project? Nothing. Do I earn from it? I can, but I choose not to. It’s not a commercial or business undertaking. Like my internet radio JJeFM which will be on its fourth year this March, this digital magazine is a personal online activity that gives me immense satisfaction. Your recognition, support and appreciation are my rewards. Thank you! Enjoy the latest Issue, and if you’re new to this blog you may want to view the previous issues.

We can shoot anything

JJWP418We, photographers of all levels, like to say we can shoot anything. And that’s what millions of other casual shooters armed with cameras on their smartphones do not say, that is what they do. So what makes us any different from them who fill Facebook, Twitter and a host of other photo sharing and social media sites with billions of photos? They take snapshots, we take photographs. There is not much thought when you take snaps – it’s the random shoot anything-anywhere-anyhow-anyway. Easy. But when you take photographs you consider the lighting, the shape, the form, the texture, the colors, the lines, the subject in relation to its background or other elements, or the lack of. You frame and compose your shot. You scan the surrounding, notice and observe. You think. And you got questions in your mind. Is this pleasing? What if I do it this way? Is this interesting? How can I make the subject stand out? Yes, all those with cameras – from smartphones to point and shoots to dslr – can shoot anything, but not anyone can produce a good photograph. Why is this so? The avid, passionate photographer has something which the casual shooter doesn’t have – knowledge. Whether hobbyist, enthusiast or even professional, they all strive to learn to improve and better their craft. They read books, articles, tips and techniques, and apply these through experimentation and practice. And they shoot and shoot. Never fearing what could be wrong, yet always hoping that the image they took was the clear result of instinct and learning developed through patience and persistence. Yes, anyone with a camera can shoot anything, but only a true photographer can shoot something of value and come out with a prize – the appreciation of his audience.

Use macro skills for portraiture


Article Excerpt: “Very few people know that macro photography is a primer for taking perfect portraits…Once you master this skill, you’ll see it pop up in your portrait photography too. You’ll start paying attention to the jewelry people are wearing, their eyebrows, the shininess of their lipstick, and the reflections on their sunglasses. It all adds up, and some of it detracts. Great portrait photographers know how to tone down the distractions while emphasizing the interesting details…If you think about it, that’s the only difference between a highly experienced photographer and someone just starting out. Photographers who have been there know which details matter the most. They can see a photo happening before they’ve even pressed down the shutter. Strengthening your macro photography skills will only get you closer to this goal.”~David Peterson from his article 3 Things Macro Photography Can Teach You About Taking Portraits

A preview to the Fiesta Issue of the Digital Magazine

JJWP410With nearly two thousand photos of various fiesta and festival events in my collection, it is but natural that I release a fiesta-themed issue of Junsjazz Digital Magazine. And that one, Issue #6, will come out this weekend. It contains select images from Philippine Festivals I had the opportunity to experience and document. This Issue promises to be very colorful, just like the tribal performer in the photo. For those new to this blog, I come out with an interactive online photography magazine and have published five issues so far. The Fiesta Issue is the sixth. And again I feature guest photo bloggers and their works. There are seven of them, each with her own two-page magazine spread. Yes, I said “her.” They are all women photographers. To access these online publications just click on the digital magazine picture at the top of the sidebar.

The technical and the artistic


Article Excerpt: “The differences between the technical and artistic photographer can be explained in terms of cerebral lateralization – what the popular press often describes as “left versus right brain.” The left side of the cerebral cortex tends to involve thinking that is more logical, analytical, objective, sequential, detail-oriented, concerned with reality, and focused on language, facts, patterns, and order. The right side involves thinking that is visual, emotional, subjective, intuitive, spatial, holistic, and based on symbols, metaphors, and imagination…What’s interesting about photography is how it calls for a robust engagement of both sides of the brain…most photography will require us to draw on the visual thinking of the right brain while also employing the left brain to master the technical aspects of working the camera and processing the image. To produce good photos, technical photographers will need to draw on a right brain appreciation of visual design and composition, whereas artistic photographers will need to tap left brain thinking in order to learn the tools of the trade that help them actualize their artistic visions.”~John Suler on Technical and Artistic Photographers from his article series Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche

Photo Quotes 101


In front of a black-and-white photo you try more to understand what is happening between the persons, whereas with color you should immediately be affected by the different tones which express a situation…the object and its color are one and the same thing, which by the way is one of the principles of the theory of perception. Form and color are inseparable.~Harry Gruyaert

Photo Quotes 91


My quest, through the magic of light and shadow, is to isolate, to simplify and to give emphasis to form with the greatest clarity.~Ruth Bernhard

Festival fever

JJWP355Tomorrow, the last Sunday of January, is the culmination of one of the biggest if not the biggest tourism event in the Philippines – the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo City in the central part of the country. It has been voted for three consecutive years in the past by a national organization of tourist and travel operators as the No. 1 tourism event, rivaling the equally grandiose Sinulog Festival of Cebu City. I had the opportunity a couple of years back to cover the Dinagyang event together with my photo buddies from Metro Manila and I tell you, even for locals like us who watched it for the first time, it was an experience unlike any other. Now the Philippines is a “fiesta country.” Every town and city celebrate a fiesta of sorts in honor of a patron saint. There’s almost a fiesta everyday somewhere all year round. These usually consist of local beauty contests, drum and bugle competition, the community parade and a culmination night in the city gymnasium or town square where there are special numbers, live bands and fireworks show. Some places have kept the celebration small, others through the years have become a national showcase and tourism attraction – the likes of the Ati-Atihan in Kalibo City, the Sinulog in Cebu held last weekend and tomorrow’s Dinagyang in Iloilo. These premiere festivals that attract thousands of visitors from within the country and from all over the world are virtual explosions of colors, of tribal and local costumes, elaborate choreography, beats of drums and music. It is a flurry of synchronized movement from the performers garbed in their most eye-catching attire. It is the “Mardi Gras” of East Asia. I will run out of words to describe the magnificence and sheer pageantry of these events. But I will not run out of photos I took and the best of them will be presented in the next issue of Junsjazz Digital Magazine which will come out this February. It will be in direct contrast to Issue #5 which was all black and white. Issue #6 will be all about the colors of Fiesta!

You know a candid shot when you see one

JJWP241Such as the picture on the right from one of the biggest annual festivities in the Philippines – the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo City. I and my fellow photographers covering the event were eyeing the child because of her elaborate costume and more so because she never smiled a bit. She had this rather stoic, unfazed and slightly irritated countenance in stark contrast to the general euphoria of the event. It was obvious she wasn’t enjoying anything of the street spectacle and her role in it. It is a candid shot where the subject may or may not be aware that he or she is being photographed. But the genuine emotion or realism is there, as opposed to a set up shot or a posed shot. This article Tips  for Fun and Meaningful Candid Photography jots down ten things to keep in mind when doing this type of photography. The first one is very basic but probably the most important: “keep you subject’s mind off the lens.” Of course you wouldn’t want your subject to be conscious. You want the person totally unaware. That’s where you get the real deal – honest, authentic, accurate expression – the pure fun of candid photography. I see many of my blogger friends here are adept at shooting this kind of images – people in the streets, at the park, at work going about nonchalantly their everyday activities. I thoroughly enjoy viewing these images and learn a lot too on how they take pictures of people. Read the rest of the article and immerse yourself in this “real-world” kind of photography. Happy candid shooting!

Photography as an art

Michael Prodger in his article at The Guardian pose the question in his title – Photography: is it art? So far it has garnered 288 comments and reactions from readers. The discussion is lively and generally divided into two camps: yes, photography is an art, and no, it isn’t. I will not add to the discussion but will give an overview of the two camps’ opposing line of thoughts. Those who say “ay” reasons that photography is a means of expression therefore it is art. It is the creation and capture of beauty therefore it is art. Sixteen of the most expensive photographs ever sold ranged from one to over four million US dollars therefore they are artworks. Those who say “nay” counters that photographers can make lovely pictures but if they are not artists they can’t make works of art. Anyone can take pictures but not everyone can create an image of artistic value. My take on all of these? The photographer can learn to be an artist. That is why we have techniques and fundamentals to hone the photographer in his craft and elevate his images into the realms of art. On the other hand, the artist who becomes a photographer has a built-in advantage because he already has a grasp on the basics like design elements and composition. Oscar Wilde defines art as “the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.” Photography is subjective, intuitive, instrospective, instinctive and highly personal – all traits of individualism. On that note, photography is art.